Wednesday, November 18, 2015



 Renee Fleming stars in Lyric Opera's :"The Merry Widow" through Dec. 3
Thomas Hampson and Renee Fleming star as Count Danilo and Hanna in dazzling production

There is no better tonic for the tragic and traumatic events in Paris than a night in its greatest era, La Belle Epoque, in 1905, as depicted in Lyric Opera's New-to-Chicago production of Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow."

Lyric creative consultant Renee Fleming stars as the irrepressible Hanna Glawari. Lyric favorite Thomas Hampson stars as Count Danilo, an old flame and reluctant object of her current affections.
The production runs through Dec. 13 with 2005 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition winner and Lyric Ryan Opera Center alum Nicole Cabell taking over the starring role for the final three performances Dec. 9-13.

The performance is full of life and laughter, with abundant romantic clinches and complications. With a spectacular production and sometimes acrobatic dancing directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman,  lavish sets by Julian Crouch (both in their Lyric debut), elaborate costumes by William Ivey Long, and inspired conducting by Conductor and Lyric Music Director Sir  Andrew Davis in the pit, this was a thoroughly delightful evening.

The libretto for The Merry Widow by Viktor Leon and Leo Stein is based on the comedy L'attache d'ambassade written in 1861. Originally sung in German, it is translated here by Jeremy Sams and performed with supertitles above the stage of the Ardis Krainik Theatre.  Although spoken and sung in English, the supertitles seemed necessary because at times, the amplified speaking parts were muffled and some of the sung words could not be understood over extended vocal and orchestral lines.

The plot is a simple one. In fact, it provides just enough to drape Franz Lehar's sumptuous score around. Beautiful Hanna is newly widowed. Her husband has left a fortune behind, quoted often in the opening act setup as "twenty million"(euros? dollars?, but, you get the idea). In fact, her newly gained fortune is enough to rescue her fictitious homeland of Pontevedrian from bankruptcy. The ambassador from that country sets the wheels in motion to find her a proper husband from her homeland. The free-wheeling widow has another suitor in mind, the confirmed bachelor Count Danilo, played and sung brilliantly by Thomas Hampson. His entry onstage is one of the great comedic moments in opera. The mark of the Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Stroman is all over this production. Comedic timing is perfect throughout, with Hampson leading the way.

Renee Fleming is in top form, delivering a commanding performance. The high point, of course, is her performance of the familiar aria "Vilja." It was finished with a dramatic flourish that seemed to ring throughout the hall. It brought a well deserved ovation.

Supporting cast members weighed in with some memorable moments; Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi in his Lyric debut as the pompous Pontevedrian ambassador, Baron Mirko Zeta and Heidi Stober as his young wife, Valencienne, also in her Lyric debut.

The Merry Widow, through December 13. For information, visit

Thursday, November 5, 2015



by Dwight Casimere

Photo: Hiroyuki Ito/New York Times

NEW YORK--Evgeny Kissin is appearing at Carnegie Hall in two sold-out recitals this week, the first pianist to perform dual concerts there in a single week since Vladimir Horowitz in 1979. His first performance brought record attendance, prompting the seating of more than a hundred lucky patrons onstage. An encore performance will be heard  on Friday, November 6 at 8pm. For more information, visit

Evgeny Kissin's program of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms and the Spanish composers Albeniz, Larregla and possible encores of Granados, will be heard at Chicago's Symphony Center Sunday,  November 15 at 2pm. For information, visit

In his Carnegie Hall performance, the enthusiastic audience literally enveloped onstage and off  as he strode onstage before the capacity crowd. He got directly to the business at hand, delivering a concise reading of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Sonata in C Major. His deft fingering layed out the playful opening melody with a light touch that allowed him to gently increase its intensity. Accompanying themes grew more defined in the left hand as the first movement, Allegro moderato unfolded.

The most exquisite moments were to follow in the Andante cantabile in which he allowed the central theme to literally sing forth, filling the acoustically perfect space with the most celestial of sounds. The Allegretto literally danced beneath his lithe touch, which ended with a graceful flourish.

Kissin seemed most at home with Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23, appropriately named "Apassionata." Kissin found the beating heart of this masterpiece of the Romantic piano repertoire. There was long and artful development of the central thematic line of the Allegro assai, building to a crescendo that burst, then faded like fireworks against a nighttime sky. Andante con moto was more dance-like with spirited movement, just as Beethoven intended. Again, Kissin's strong fingers brought forth the light quick-step of the melody while conveying a sense of the dramatic elements to follow. He pulled out all the stops in the final movement, Allegro ma non troppo (fast, but not too fast), was Kissin's opportunity to showcase the full dynamic force of his playing. At first restrained, building the increasingly complex thematic material in the left hand,  while executing beautifully embellished cascading arpeggios in the right. It all erupted in a dazzling display of virtuosic prowess.

Following the interval, Kissin bore his Romantic soul in Johannes Brahms' Three Intermezzos. His contemporaries referred to them as a "fountain of pleasure....filled with "poetry, passion, rapture and heartfelt emotion." Kissing summoned forth all that and more in his performance. He leaned forward, hovering above the keys as if listening patiently for the soul of the music's creator to speak to him.  The emotions he conjured forth were thusly heartfelt. There was a bittersweet quality to his playing that almost brought one to tears.

Isaac Albeniz' tone poems Granada, Cadiz, Cordoba and Astorias are the Spanish composer's version of tone poems, evoking the sights and  sounds of his homeland. Awash in impressionistic tonal brush-strokes, Kissin used his considerable skills to paint a musical portrait as only he can do.

The ensuing encores of fellow Spanish composer Enrique Granados; Quejas o la maja y el ruisenor, Andaluza and Brahms' familiar Hungarian Dance, No. 1, had them figuratively dancing in the aisles   as the happy and satisfied audience made its way toward the exits. 

This program repeats Friday, November 6 at 8pm at Carnegie Hall. 

Photo: Hiroyuki Ito/New York Times

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


by Dwight Casimere

Johan Botha as Tannhauser and Eva-Marie Westbrook as Elisabeth

The Metropolitan Opera brought all of its vast resources into full focus to realize a superlative production of Richard Wagner's Tannhauser which will be seen in a Met Live HD Encore Presentation Wednesday, November 4 at 6:30pm local time. Check local listings for theatre locations.

Music Director James Levine led a finely drawn reading of Wagner's lush orchestration, emphasizing the central theme, the hymn sung by the pilgrims which would be repeated at several key points throughout the opera, building the passages slowly. He allowed the magnificent Wagnerian horns to ring out, while coaxing sweet sounds from the woodwinds and somber, dramatic passages from the strings.

The vocal ensemble was among the best to be presented on the Met stage this season. Tenor Johan Botha shined as the knight minstrel Tannhauser. His brilliant voice changed in character throughout the performance; at first proclaiming his youthful ardor for Venus, sung with voluptuous tones by Michelle DeYoung, then moving into more dramatic territory, alternately reflecting despair and emotional trauma as he struggled with his conflicting emotions.

Eva-Marie Westbrook gave the most impressive performance in the demanding role of Elisabeth, the object of Tannhauser's affection.
The opera tells of Tannhauser's early existence in the subterranean lair of Venus, who continues to lure him back with her siren song at several key points in the opera. 
Tannhauser longs for Elisabeth and enters into a singing 'duel' with Wolfram, sung by Swedish baritone Peter Mattei. His Song to the Evening Star is one of the high points of the opera.

James Levine's conducting and the performances by the opera chorus and orchestra were exceptional. The camera work by Live In HD Director Barbara Willis Sweete focused in on the soloists at key moments, showing the brilliant playing of the Wagnerian horns and the exceptional dexterity of the harpist, who figured quite prominently in the solo sung by Peter Mattei.

Costumes by designer Patricia Zipprodt, were outstanding and reflective of both the Medieval period of the story and the specific nature of the characters. Some of the costumes, according to Zipprodt in an intermission interview with Live In HD Host and Met soprano Susan Graham, dated back to the original production by Otto Schenk in 1977.

Set design by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen and Lighting Design by Gil Wechsler provided a nuanced landscape that effectively charted Tannhauser's pilgrimage toward redemption.

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus is a key element in the success of this sweeping production. Chorus Master Donald Polumbo made the pilgrim  theme a thrilling moment. 
For more information on Met Live In HD Tannhauser, visit or fathom